Outdoor grilling offers healthy benefits

June 6, 2013
Grilling's shorter cooking time helps preserves vitamins in vegetables.

Now that summer has arrived, many people have fired up their grills and have begun barbecuing for friends and family. Not only is grilling an essential staple of summertime fun, but it can also be quite healthy if done correctly, according to dietary specialists at the West Penn Allegheny Health System.

“Grilling done right provides a number of healthful positives, “said Nonnie Toth, a clinical dietitian at WPAHS.

“Grilling meats makes it easier to manage a low-fat diet because it will have a reduced fat content compared to some other cooking methods. That’s because the fat will drop off as the food cooks. Another benefit of grilling is the shorter cooking time. This helps to retain vitamins when you are grilling vegetables,” Toth said.

These benefits can be achieved by applying the following guidelines when grilling:

Go lean. Replace red meats that are high in fat with leaner meats, such as chicken, fish and pork. For hamburgers, use ground sirloin or 93/7 percent lean beef, or consider ground turkey burgers. And for cheeseburgers, opt for cheese slices made with skim milk.

Get colorful. Vegetables such as red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant are delicious when grilled and provide many healthy nutrients. Salads are also a great choice, but use either a vinaigrette dressing or oil and vinegar instead of a creamy dressing.

Add fiber. Barbeques can be made even healthier by adding foods rich in fiber. Serve meats on whole wheat buns. A baked bean side dish is also high in fiber.

Don’t overcook. Health experts warn that meats and vegetables cooked over high temperatures may be exposed to carcinogenic substances. Charcoal is believed to contaminate food with carcinogenic compounds and release dangerous hydrocarbons and soot into the air. Try cooking with a gas grill instead. It is cleaner. You can occasionally grill with charcoal, but avoid charring the meat and stay out of the way of smoke from the grill. Marinating meat before grilling can also reduce the release of carcinogenic compounds.

Avoid contamination. Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. Preheating your grill for 20 minutes can help kill lingering bacteria. Never use the same plate and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat. It is a good idea to scrape off and clean your grill after each use. Bacteria and carcinogenic residue can build up on the grates over time. Finally, wash your hands thoroughly after handing raw meats.

Make it H2O. Instead of stocking up your cooler with alcoholic beverages or sodas high in caffeine and sugar, serve water to cut down calories and stay hydrated longer.

“Overall, grilling can lead to healthier cholesterol levels with a reduced fat intake leading to better cardiovascular health,” said Toth.

These tips will make outdoor grilling safe, minimize health risks while enhancing the flavor of your food, and make for a healthy summer.

For more information on safe outdoor grilling and dietary guides, contact The Cardiovascular Institute at WPAHS at 1-877-97HEART.



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